Advanced Nuclear Can Make Gasoline Out of Water
- November 15, 2018
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The international transport sector consumes 20% of total global energy, and it is almost entirely powered by fossil fuels, thereby contributing significantly to global carbon emissions. There are no technological prospects that show any demonstrable signs of materially changing this construct quickly enough to mitigate the deleterious effects that transport energy has on climate change.
Transport fuels consist entirely of hydrocarbons. These are formulations of the elements hydrogen and carbon. Hydrogen and carbon are plentiful elements in nature, however they are locked into other chemical formulations that do not allow them to be easily separated or reformed. After decades of exhaustive research, it is a fact that petroleum is still, by far, the lowest-cost and lowest-emission input for the production of transport fuels.
In order to separate and/or reform hydrogen or carbon, a great deal of power is required, primarily in the form of heat. To-date, the only reliable method for generating these quantities and temperatures of heat is through fossil fuel combustion. Combusting fossil fuels to create hydrocarbons clearly defeats the purpose, and would not have a positive impact on carbon emissions.
Many Generation-IV advanced nuclear reactor systems are designed to be high-temperature systems, and they have the capability of delivering extremely high-quality and high-temperature industrial heat. These systems, as with all nuclear power systems, have ultra-low carbon emissions on a life cycles basis. The life cycle emissions of civilian nuclear power has been estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be 12 grams CO2-eq/kWh, which is approximately one-quarter of the life cycle emissions of solar power, and approximately equal to wind power and hydro power.
These advanced nuclear reactors systems also have the promise of generating power cost-competitively with fossil fuels. This is a critical factor for widespread industrial adoption, and it is a critical factor for the economic feasibility of synthetic transport fuels.
Does this sound like a “Back To The Future” storyline? In the words of Doc Brown, let me show you how it works:
All the technologies required to make gasoline from water are proven technologies and can be built and integrated today. A facility would require the following discrete components:
High-Temperature Steam Electrolysis (HTSE) hydrogen fabrication, a proprietary technology, developed by the US Department of Energy, which produces industrial hydrogen using no other input than water.
Direct Air Capture system, a proprietary technology, developed by Carbon Engineering Corp, for the purpose of sequestering carbon, using inputs of air and benign, closed-cycle chemistry.
Fischer-Tropsch and associated chemical processing facilities for the rendition of Hydrogen and Carbon into fuels, including aviation fuel, gasoline and diesel.
Integral Molten Salt Reactor, a proprietary technology, developed by Terrestrial Energy, for the purpose of generating sufficient quantities and temperatures of industrial heat to power the above three facilities.
The global transport sector’s ongoing use of fossil fuel combustion for motive power represents a significant source of carbon emissions. There is no evidence, nor any expert opinion, that would suggest that this practice will abate in time to mitigate catastrophic climate change. The global fleet of 1.3 billion ICE vehicles, 25,000 civilian aircraft, and 52,000 marine vessels cannot be electrified by 2050 to any significant degree.
Rather than replace the entire global fleet of transport equipment, a practicable solution is to seamlessly substitute petroleum-based fuels with water-based fuels that are carbon-neutral, and comparable in price. The consumer would not notice any difference. Adoption of this technology would decrease carbon emissions by 10 million metric tonnes per plant per year (64,000 barrels of fuel per day) – the equivalent of 2.1 million cars worth of CO2emissions. Furthermore, fuel price volatility could be forever eliminated, dramatically lowering the economic risk placed upon global economies that are deeply impacted by variations in fuel costs.
Synthetic transport fuels are a critical, world-saving technology that must be adopted in the absence of any other technological solutions. The technological readiness is very high, and capital costs are relatively low. This solution can be adopted extremely quickly and deployed on a global scale with relative ease.